Opening: BESTIAIRE Examines The Nature Of Gaze
The documentary starts in an art class, where a group of students is sketching an inanimate object. They stare at the object intently. The whole sequence is tense and serious. It turns out that the object is a stuffed deer (or is it a baby antelope?). We are looking at the spectators looking at their subjects. Then we move on to grey concrete blocks that are animal holding cells in a zoo. It's Parc Safari in Quebec in wintertime. The film features a series of animals in exquisitely composed tableaux. Who knew that static close ups of animals bobbing their heads above and below the frame can be this hypnotic?
Lions bang on the cage, trying to get out of their small cells. Tigers aimlessly trot back and forth. Just like passive young caretakers of the Parc Safari, we partake in observing these animals in their natural state in captivity. But the film is not really about captive animals. Côté is not an animal rights advocate. Rather, he is interested in the relationship between spectators and their subjects.
Bestiaire, done in a deceptively simple way, has no narrative pull whatsoever. But along with Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Ilisa Barbash's Sweetgrass (2009), it's the best kind of observational documentary, as it leaves a lot of room for an audience to reflect. It gets progressively more interesting, especially as the beasts look back at you and you feel like you are locked in a staring contest with them. Who's zoomin' who now?
The film will be preceded by two intriguing shorts. Primate Cinema: Apes as Family by Rachel Mayeri and Moving Stories by Nicolas Provost both have to do with our way of seeing things; while Apes gets the better of us emotionally instead of intellectually, Moving Stories shows us how easily we fall for narratives with such little devices.
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Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions of the world can be seen at www.dustinchang.com
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